Google's Verily Scientist Left to Co-Found Stealth Health Startup Named Mindstrong

Google's Verily Scientist Left to Co-Found Stealth Health Startup Named Mindstrong May 11, 2017
By Alex Keown, Breaking News Staff

SAN FRANCISCO – Thomas Insel, the noted neuroscientist whose departure from Google ’s Verily after less than two years was revealed earlier this week, has resurfaced days later at the helm of his own startup, Mindstrong.

The new company plans to examine how smartphone use may predict the onset of certain mental health issues, such as depression, suicide, schizophrenia and others. In an interview with CNBC, Insel said the idea builds upon work he was already doing with Verily. The company intends to develop a smartphone app, and possibly computer programs, that can be downloaded and can recognize certain behaviors through a process known as digital phenotyping. Through digital phenotyping, Insel, and others, believe that mental health can be mapped and tracked through simple activities like keyboard strokes.

"There's a lot to the changes in how we type on keys; it's the speed; it's the latency," Insel said in his interview with CNBC. "There's rich information there that hasn't really been mined."

Mindstrong will be based in Palo Alto. In addition to Insel, the company was co-founded by Richard Klausner, a former director of the U.S. National Cancer Institute, and Paul Dagum, who holds patents on at least three digital phenotyping methods, Nature reported.

Some of the indicators for possible mental health issues include someone who is experiencing a form of mania could embark on an out-of-character online shopping spree or someone in the stages of depression could withdraw and not return text messages, CNBC said.

It’s not just the monitoring of behavior that Mindstrong is looking to, but also developing ways for patients with these mental issues will have a path to visiting with care providers through the digital platform itself.

In his interview with CNBC, Insel readily admits that the technology is in its infancy and could easily lead to false positives and false negatives with those using the platform. He said that right now there’s no way of determining if the technology being developed by Mindstrong, Verily or another company, will have any impact on clinical outcomes over the long-term. But, Insel, the former director of the National Institute of Mental Health, said it’s important to try and make a difference–which includes the use of rigorous clinical research.

"We need something in the mental health space," he told CNBC. "It hasn't had the innovation or anything that has moved the needle in the past 3 or 4 decades."

Insel’s old employer, Verily, is also delving into similar territory as Mindstrong. In his interview with Nature, Insel said the company has developed the initial parts of its own program and that it was far-enough along that he could walk away and begin his own company.

“I knew in moving to Verily it would be a transitional job until I could figure out what I really wanted to do, and I’ve had an entrepreneurial itch,” Insel told Nature.

On a blog post announcing Insel’s departure earlier this week, Verily said it believes technology will play a critical role in mental health challenges–one of which is “the lack of an objective, precise and comprehensive measurement system.” Verily said its goal is to collect “deep datasets” and “develop a next generation measurement-based care platform that will empower a holistic and personalized approach to treatment.”

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